Armoring the Massachusetts Coast: Increased Protection or Added Risk?

Abstract

Armoring the coast using structures like seawalls and revetments has been a traditional response to the natural changes in shoreline configuration. But hard engineered structures like seawalls can have unintended consequences on nearby beaches and properties. In addition to the environmental and property impacts of these structures, the enormous costs of construction and maintenance are proving financially unsustainable for taxpayers. With the increased risks to coastal property, infrastructure and livelihoods that are the inevitable results of rising sea levels and increased coastal storm activity and intensity, it is time to examine the effects of engineered hard protection structures. Political and societal impulses to armor the coast must be informed by the results of the study of the actual impacts of these structures. ææThis study examines the change in shoreline erosion rates before and after the installation of hard engineered structures in two Massachusetts coastal communities and some of the economic costs involved. This initial look at the relationship between shoreline protection structures and accelerated erosion demonstrates that this topic is important for further research to support the decisions that will be made about the development and implementation of effective and equitable coastal adaptation and resilience policies.